August 26 is celebrated as World Day for the End of Speciesism, to reflect on the harms we inflict on animals and our responsibility to protect them. Speciesism is discrimination against certain animals simply because they are not human or if they belong to another species. It allows us to exploit certain animals for food, clothing, entertainment and more without considering their suffering while at the same time including certain animals as part of our families. Speciesism also leads to us neglecting animals in need in situations in which we would help other humans. This happens particularly in our disregard for wild animals.
On this day, it’s time to take a hard look at how our actions impact animals and what we can do to help end this mistreatment.
First, we must recognize that animals are sentient — they have the capacity to suffer, feel joy, pain and suffering just like us. Chickens, pigs, cows, fishes, insects and other farmed animals feel pain and distress when raised in cramped, filthy conditions not only on factory farms but also in smaller farms. Dolphins and whales suffer in marine parks when confined to tiny tanks. Horses and dogs endure misery when forced to race or fight for our entertainment. We cause immense misery to animals by treating them like objects instead of the feeling beings they are.
Humans use many reasons to try to justify using animals in certain ways. Some of the reasons include ideas that humans are morally and intellectually superior, are able to form strong bonds with other humans, or because it is the natural order.
This raises the question: Would we be okay doing the same to human beings?
The short answer is no.
Our use of animals for food causes an immense amount of animal suffering worldwide. By eliminating our demand for these products, we can prevent immense animal misery. We can choose more plant-based foods, avoid fur and leather, and never attend events like circuses that use animals as performers. With mindfulness of how our choices impact animals, we can significantly lessen the suffering we inflict.
But our responsibility extends beyond just ending our active exploitation of animals. We also have an obligation to help animals suffering in nature when we can reasonably do so. Even more suffering takes place in the wild than from animal exploitation. There are many ways we could help.
For example, during natural disasters like floods and fires, animals trapped in those areas often die painful deaths. We can include animals in our disaster rescue efforts. Setting up temporary shelters and medical aid for injured animal survivors should be part of every disaster response plan. This is being done to some extent in some places but we could make it part of every regional disaster plan.
We can also help reduce the suffering wild animals endure from illness, injuries, and starvation. Supporting organizations that vaccinate, and provide medical care to wild animals prevents immense misery. Donating to groups that rehabilitate wild animals or care for farm animal refugees helps individual animals live better lives.
Some argue we should not intervene in nature at all. But that view ignores the moral dimension – if we can easily prevent or reduce suffering without causing more harm, how can we disregard the needs of those who are suffering? A bird with a broken wing or a starving stray dog deserves our help and concern, regardless of being wild or domesticated. If we encounter opportunities to aid suffering animals in nature without negative impact, we should take action.
On this World Day for the End of Speciesism, we can all thoughtfully reflect on our personal roles in perpetuating animal exploitation and suffering. We can also think about when our omissions can be harmful. This happens when we don’t help others who need it. By making more respectful choices in our own lives, and supporting efforts to help animals in need both domesticated and wild, we can significantly reduce animal misery – and create a better world for all sentient beings.